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  • Flower Power: Fractal Flowers Could Help Return Eyesight
May 2011
EUGENE, Ore., May 9, 2011 — University of Oregon researcher Richard Taylor is on a quest to grow “flowers” — seeded from nanoparticles — that will help people who have lost their sight to see again.

These flowers are not roses or tulips but fractals that mimic and communicate efficiently with neurons. Fractals are "a trademark building block of nature," Taylor said. They are objects with irregular curves or shapes, each component of which, when seen under magnification, is the same shape as the whole. In math, that property is self-similarity. Trees, clouds, rivers, galaxies, lungs and neurons are fractals – today’s commercial electronic chips are not fractals, he added.

Eye surgeons would implant the fractal devices within the eyes of blind patients, providing interface circuitry that would collect light captured by the retina and guide it with almost 100 percent efficiency to neurons for relay to the optic nerve.

Richard Taylor, physics professor and director of the University of Oregon Material Science Institute, is leading an effort to design a fractal-based retinal implant to help return vision to the blind. (Image: Jim Barlow)

In an article titled "Vision of Beauty" for Physics World, Taylor described his envisioned approach and how it might overcome the problems occurring with current efforts to insert photodiodes behind the eyes. Current chip technology is limited, because it doesn't allow sufficient connections with neurons. The project is based on "the striking similarities between the eye and the digital camera."

“The front end of both systems,” he wrote, “consists of an adjustable aperture within a compound lens, and advances bring these similarities closer each year.” Digital cameras, he added, are approaching the capacity to capture the 127 megapixels of the human eye, but current chip-based implants, because of their interface, are providing only about 50 pixels of resolution.

Among the challenges, Taylor said, is determining which metals can best go into the human body without toxicity problems. “We’re right at the start of this amazing voyage,” he said.

“The ultimate thrill for me will be to go to a blind person and say, ‘We’re developing a chip that one day will help you see again.’ For me, that is very different from my previous research, where I've been looking at electronics to go into computers, to actually help somebody … if I can pull that off, that will be a tremendous thrill for me.”

Beginning this summer, Taylor’s doctoral student Rick Montgomery will begin a yearlong collaboration with Simon Brown at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand to experiment with various metals to grow the fractal flowers on implantable chips.

For more information, visit:  

The inability to perceive visual images (visible radiant energy). In human beings, blindness is defined as a visual acuity of less than one-tenth normal vision.
A method used to generate graphics within a computer system. Rather than dots or lines, fractal graphics work with mathematical formulas that represent the natural curves of the object.
1. The photosensitive membrane on the inside of the human eye. 2. A scanning mechanism in optical character generation.
The processes in which luminous energy incident on the eye is perceived and evaluated.
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